At State of the Union

West Philly Hybrid X Team member, Brandon Ford, will be sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box tomorrow night for the State of the Union Address. He was invited by President Obama’s Science Advisor. He also gets to visit the White House, meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and meet the man who invited him, John Holdren. I know all this because I gave the White House Brandon Ford’s phone number.

“Amazing,” is what Ms. R. said and that just about captures it.

In September, the West Philly Hybrid X Team traveled to Washington, DC for the X PRIZE Awards Ceremony. The Awards Ceremony was the same day that President Obama announced his “Change the Equation” effort to increase education for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The EVX Team was asked to bring four students to the announcement.

I was the chaperone, accompanying Brandon, Azeem Hill, Alexis Bland and Sekou Kamara. We stood in line outside the White House and made our way to the gate. Brandon did not have his school id with him and nothing we said could convince the folks at the gate to let Brandon in. The young staff member apologized and said he would see if they could do something for Brandon. For a few weeks I checked the mail every day thinking we’d be receiving a nice autographed picture. Then I thought, oh well, it was a nice gesture. I truly believed that Brandon’s disappointment had been lost in the debates about health care and deficits, but I was wrong.

I got the call from the White House Office of Science and Technology employee on Tuesday January 19. They remembered that Brandon been denied admittance to the White House. I called Simon, “They really are going to do something for Brandon after all.” I was almost blabbering.

However, I was able to tell the folks at the Office of Science and Technology that this great honor couldn’t have come at better time for a better kid. I explained that the EVX Team entered the Conrad Foundation’s Spirit of Innovation Awards, a competition to create innovative products using science, technology, and entrepreneurship to solve real-world, 21st century problems. Teams are limited to 5 members. A week before our submission was due, one of our team members moved out of Philadelphia.

Brandon stepped in, meshed with the other Conrad Team members and proceeded to work with us after school and on the weekend leading up to the January 18 submission date. He assumed responsibilities for researching and writing and did the layout for a very large poster that was our graphic presentation for the contest. Then, on Monday, January 18, Martin Luther King Day, he was one of the students who met us at 7 AM at the Auto Academy for our Day of Service.

How sweet and serendipitous it was that the call came from the White House the very next day. It’s really not all that frequent that good deeds are so promptly rewarded. I’m sure that Simon will say it has something to do with religion, lighting candles and the like.

All I will say on the matter is that it did seem rather providential that I should be driving to Staples to get Brandon’s poster printed when the White House called.


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